Assent or ascent?
It’s Friday. That means it’s time to highlight either a word or an error “in the wild.” Or a little of both.
An official memo came through my inbox a few weeks ago at the university where I teach and the misuse was so glaring – not to mention comical – that I want to share it here.
“This Friday, Oct 28th, the elevator in Audubon Hall will make its final assent to the top of Audubon Hall. ”
(As per my policy, details have been changed to protect the author from potential embarrassment. But neither the intent nor the effect of the sentence have been altered.)
Assent, you may know, means to agree to or to comply with.
Ascent, on the other hand, means rising or moving upward; ascending.
So, taken literally, the memo would indicate that this was a compliant elevator, willing to go to the top floor one last time. It was a real team player, right up until it was replaced.
I don’t point these errors out to ridicule. Only to show that errors like this happen all the time, and that they can happen to anyone. There are hundreds of words in English that can easily be confused because they have the same sound (homophones; and, more technically, heterographs) . You need to have an excellent vocabulary to catch them, because your word processor’s spellchecker won’t.
That’s why – pardon the plug – you need a better editor. Don’t risk looking foolish or careless in your business communications. Give me a call to make sure your next project is free of this kind of error.
By the way: I’ll be posting a column in the near future on “word processor errors,” like the one here (where the spellchecker allows “assent” for “ascent,” because it’s spelled correctly). There’s no foolproof way to avoid them, but being aware that they occur, and how, is an important step toward minimizing them.